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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

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An SDSU student provides income tax assistance through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program. An SDSU student provides income tax assistance through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program.
 


SDSU Students Offer Income Tax Assistance to Underserved Communities

SDSU students enrolled in Accounting 409 earn course credit by volunteering in the VITA program.
By Suzanne Finch
 

“We worked out a scenario where our Accounting 409 students could earn course credit while they helped low-income residents and people who are new to the U.S. file their taxes.”

For nearly 40 years, San Diego State University accounting students have offered complimentary state and federal income tax assistance to California residents through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. Trained by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), SDSU students enrolled in Accounting 409 earn course credit by preparing federal and California state tax returns, giving community members access to pro bono tax preparation services, while students gain real-world experience. Faculty and graduate students are also on hand to assist and review all completed returns.

Two years ago, SDSU VITA expanded its reach by working with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) to offer tax preparation services to recent immigrants and low-income residents who visited the IRC centers in East San Diego and El Cajon. While the SDSU VITA sessions are open one or two days a week, the IRC runs their tax clinics seven days per week. 

“This year, we had a lot more students than usual request a seat in the Accounting 409 class, so we had to think outside the box to allow for more people to participate in the VITA program,” said Douglas Kelley (’13) who worked in the VITA program as an SDSU student and now runs the program as an SDSU accounting lecturer. “That’s what prompted us to approach the IRC. We worked out a scenario where four Accounting 409 students earn course credit while they helped low-income residents and people who are new to the U.S. file their taxes.”

In addition to the four students getting course credit, four other students volunteer on their own. SDSU accounting senior Alejandro Preciado initially volunteered at the IRC VITA program because his sister recommended that he take part in the program. 

"She said volunteering with the VITA program offered helpful experience and insight in preparing taxes, but it has offered me so much more than that,” he said. “Many clients have unique situations and I see a new situation every day. I enjoy applying my classroom experience to real-life scenarios so that I can share what I’ve learned with the clients so that they have a better understanding of their tax return.”

Phu Vu, a junior accounting major at SDSU, echoed Preciado’s sentiments.

“It has been very rewarding to be able to educate clients about the U.S. personal income tax system and knowing that clients that came into the offices with no knowledge leave here with a greater understanding of how our tax system works,” said Vu. “When they come in for our services, they are so patient, kind-hearted and appreciative of any help and I am grateful for having the opportunity to volunteer my time.”